Georgia Supreme Court: Online courses qualify as “attending school”

Interesting Georgia Supreme Court ruling today that an online high school meets the definition of  “attending school.”

This case deals with child support, but I thought the legal finding on the virtual schooling was worth sharing. A lower court had ruled that the online school did not satisfy the child support provision that the child be attending school to continue receiving support from his father, but the high court disagreed.

Here is a summary of the ruling provided by the Georgia Supreme Court:

The Georgia Supreme Court has reversed a Chatham County court decision, finding that an 18-year-old’s participation in an on-line high school can satisfy the requirement that one must be “attending” school to continue to receive a parent’s child support.

“In light of the legislative and executive branches’ endorsement and regulation of on-line learning opportunities for Georgia students, we conclude that once a child enrolls in approved on-line courses in an effort to graduate from secondary school, his on-line attendance constitutes ‘attending school’ for purposes of extending child support beyond the child’s attainment of the age of majority,” Justice Robert Benham writes in today’s unanimous opinion.

The case stems from the 2007 divorce of Angel and Clifford Draughn, whose son was due to graduate from a private school in Savannah, in June 2009. Under the final divorce decree, the father was to pay the mother $1,200 a month in child support until their son reached the age of 18, “provided that if [boy] becomes 18 years old while enrolled in and attending secondary school on a full-time basis, then the child support shall continue for [him] until he has graduated from secondary school or reaches 20 years of age, whichever comes first.” According to briefs filed in the case, due to a medical condition, in February 2009 the boy enrolled as a full-time student in the Kaplan School, an on-line secondary school approved by the private school where he had attended. After he failed to turn in satisfactory schoolwork by the end of April, however, the private school released him. The boy turned 18, the age of majority, on April 21 2009. In August, 2009, he resumed full-time status as a student at a public high school.

In October 2009, Clifford Draughn filed a motion asking the court to terminate his child support obligation because when his son turned 18, he was not enrolled in and attending a secondary school. In February 2010, the trial court concluded that the on-line courses for which the son was registered did not satisfy the criteria in the child support order that he “attend” school full time. Furthermore, the trial court said that even if the on-line course satisfied the “attend” criteria, he was not attending full-time, as demonstrated by the log in his Kaplan record. Ruling in favor of the father, the trial court terminated his child support obligation as of July 2009, a month before his son resumed high school at a Savannah public school. The mother then appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Today’s opinion points out that in 2005, the Georgia legislature enacted Official Code of Georgia § 20-2-319.1, authorizing establishment of the “Georgia Virtual School” where students 21 and under “may enroll in state-funded courses via the Internet or in any other manner not involving on-site interaction with a teacher.” And under the state’s child support statute, a judge may order parents to pay child support for children who have reached the age of majority before completing their secondary education.

The purpose of that statute and the Draughns’ child support agreement is to have parents “continue to provide financial assistance to a child who has reached the age of majority to enable a child to complete his or her secondary school education…,” today’s opinion says. “In enacting the statute, the General Assembly recognized the importance of a child completing a secondary education and parental responsibility to assist a child in achieving that goal.

The high court has found that the trial court also erred by cutting off child support simply because the boy was not in school during the summer months. For most full-time students, the regular school year doesn’t include the summer.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

24 comments Add your comment

Chrome Gouda

March 7th, 2011
9:48 am

I’m not diametrically opposed to the idea of online secondary school classes as a substitute for “brick and mortar” schools, but I sure hope the state has some significant oversight in place for these companies, so that they don’t just become the “degree factories” that you see with some online colleges.

Principal teacher

March 7th, 2011
9:57 am

Because this has worked so well with teacher and leadership degrees that we can no longer honor them.

Lordy the hypocrisy.

CharterStarter

March 7th, 2011
10:20 am

I hope this ruling bodes well for the Commission case!

Maureen Downey

March 7th, 2011
10:30 am

@CharterStarter, Any word on when the decision is coming? I was on a panel two weeks ago with one of the justices in Athens and said to him jokingly, “I hope this panel isn’t preventing you from finalizing that much anticipated charter school ruling.” He just laughed.
Maureen

[...] Atlanta J. Constitution: Interesting Georgia Supreme Court ruling today that an online high school meets the definition of “attending school.” | Draughn v. Draughn, Nos. S10A1599, S10A1600 (Ga. Mar. 7, 2011) [...]

[...] Atlanta J. Constitution: Interesting Georgia Supreme Court ruling today that an online high school meets the definition of “attending school.” | Draughn v. Draughn, Nos. S10A1599, S10A1600 (Ga. Mar. 7, 2011) [...]

Reality Check

March 7th, 2011
12:45 pm

The more alternatives to the current government monopoly the better.

come on son

March 7th, 2011
1:10 pm

I am pretty sure he paid more than $1200 in legal fees just to lose this case. Common sense is not common.

Lynn43

March 7th, 2011
2:03 pm

How many of you would go to a medical doctor who took his classes “on line”?

another comment

March 7th, 2011
4:43 pm

Another case of the selfish father, who doesn’t want to pay child support. I am sure he didn’t want to pay the private school tuition, which Ga. Law doesn’t require to be paid.. Of course Fathers are required to pay for college, but their income is required to be put in the Financial aid forms when applying for it. Most of the time the kids get screwed because the younger gold digging second or third wife is sitting their saying why are you paying out so much for those kids. We could be using that money. Of course Gold Digger, doesn’t realize the same thing will happen to her down the road same man will repeat his actions and not want to pay.

The worse thing is this Father has just destroyed his relationship with his son for a long time. I know both my kids hate their Father because he thinks Child support is optional. The kids are who suffer, when mom has to go to court to get the child support. Or worry about paying for school or the kids can’t stay in the same school as their friends.

another comment

March 7th, 2011
4:44 pm

I meant, Ga. divorce law does not require men to pay for college.

catlady

March 7th, 2011
5:21 pm

Nor does Georgia law require fathers to pay if the kid is a fall birthday and turns 18 at the beginning of the senior year!

catlady

March 7th, 2011
5:23 pm

Charter Starter: Can you aim me towards some good advice/support for potential charterstarters who cannot expect the local school system to do a thing to support it?

catlady

March 7th, 2011
5:25 pm

Or maybe the law has changed? My ex didn’t have to pay a thing for that last year, much less college, insurance, etc.

Tired Teacher

March 7th, 2011
6:53 pm

Maybe kids can learn a great deal with online courses. Can that computer screen prepare the student for adult socialization, working with real people in a group, and have the attention and support of a real life person? Let’s not let education get too “cold.”

FBT

March 7th, 2011
7:22 pm

My oldest turned 18 in January of her senior year and not another penny from her dad. He wonders why they don’t have a good relationship.

FBT

March 7th, 2011
7:29 pm

@Tired Teacher – Traditional schools aren’t always doing a great job preparing students to interact with adults nor meeting individual student’s needs because of the group. Also, has anyone ever had a good group experience? Usually, one or two people do all the work out of desire for good marks and the others ride their coattails to an A. Guess groups are a good lesson on society as a whole and teaches life is not fair.

MS Man

March 7th, 2011
9:09 pm

I am concerned that just because some “degree mills” set up for profit businesses that filled a niche of need (i.e. get a degree or never get a pay raise beyond the step as an educator because how well you perform doesn’t matter or have anything to do with your skill because you can’t control the kids that come to you) that all online courses must be bad. I agree the degree mills needed to be regulated and they were not, but that was not an issue of the online learning, that was a regulatory issue of the PSC and others who didn’t care about accreditation or the rigor in the courses. I know of several places that folks i my school attended as brick and mortar universities that didn’t do a lick of work, but because they sat through 36 hours of instruction and wrote one paper at the end, they were awarded an advanced degree.

My point, clouded a bit by sarcasm, is that online learning isn’t bad in and off itself. Just like lecturing is not bad always in class or group work isn’t always bad or appropriate or reading the text and answering the questions at the end of the chapter isn’t always good….. The quality of the course matters, the amount of interaction that is required matters, and the technologies used to link the students together and the teacher really matter. GAVS has a nifty online classroom where kids link in and speak with each other and the teacher and ask questions and do all the same things you would see in a classroom now.

Don’t dismiss it out of hand…. (oh yeah, I also have to say that you should take care of your kids. Men need to step up and take care of their kids whether they get along with momma or not.)

Tired Teacher

March 8th, 2011
5:49 am

“It takes a village to raise a child” is an appropriate phrase. Yes, groups are not always good, social skill are not always learned, not all teachers are good, but overall the public school room is a great place to grow up. We all must learn that it’s not always “me first,” on my own time, and the way I want it. Why not apply all those new methods and facilitations to the entire public school? Why abandon the public school? So many of those kids don’t have any advocates so they will not be attending private or charter schools or getting virtual learning to expand their horizons. If we placed these new trends in the public schools and guided the students with highly trained and degreed teachers, wouldn’t everyone profit? I think so.

Really Amazed

March 8th, 2011
10:30 am

This is how all schooling will become in the future, elementary, middle, high school and college. On-line degrees are the way of the future. Not that I agree with them but just think of how less expensive it would be. I feel sorry for the whole teaching community and how many jobs will be impacted though. I have a family member that just got her doctorial degree on-line. I do several continuing ed classes on line already. No more expensive colleges etc.

Hick from the sticks

March 8th, 2011
10:49 am

Really Amazed–

I wouldn’t worry too much about “the whole teaching community”. I am certain there will be a virtual teacher who can help you with where your should virtually put commas, and assist with your run on sentences as well. If this is the future of schooling, may God have mercy on this once great nation.

Really Amazed

March 8th, 2011
10:55 am

@Hick from the sticks- Yes, God have mercy if this should happen!!!!!!!! Where YOU should virtually put commas.

Really Amazed

March 8th, 2011
11:04 am

Yes!!! God have mercy on all of us!

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